I don’t need to tell you that postpartum and parenting do a number on your…
Picture this: You’re at a gathering, maybe it’s a birthday party, a play date, or a too early morning at the playground with a group of fellow moms. You feel awkward, a little unsure of how to interact, so you approach a mom you know and start chatting. Look at you go! You’re making small talk. Then the conversation moves onto “Oh, did you hear [insert information about someone else]?”
And so it begins.
I was a huge gossip throughout much of my life and it stemmed from a longing to fit in. I spent so much time talking about other people, thinking I was being “social” that I neglected my real friends.
And guess what? I was gossiped about too. Mostly about my gossiping, and it hurt.
One day, a good friend suggested I stop and I listened. Once I made an agreement to myself to stop gossiping, it became harder to do. I was confronted by tons of opportunities to talk about other people and the gossip around me got louder and louder. When you realize how often you do it, you see it everywhere.
It’s a skill we hone in high school, sharpen at dinner parties, and become masters at in our social circles – we are taught to think that it’s an important part of relating. Yet, one of the most insidious cultural practices we engage in is…you guessed it…gossip. It’s social currency and it’s harmful.
When I finally stopped for good, my mind quieted and my anxiety lowered. I devoted more time to listening, creating deeper, more trusting friendships. I started talking about ideas that interested me and I got curious about other people and their interests.
My life changed; I became a better and more loyal friend. My friendships grew closer because friends were more willing to share their deepest selves with me.
It’s time to have an honest look at what gossip is, why it is so damaging, how it keeps us small, and what we can do about it. Armed with this info, you might just change your mind about the value of gossip in your conversations and potentially change the world.
So, what is gossip? According to the dictionary, gossip is:
- Rumor or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature.
- A person who habitually spreads intimate or private rumors or facts.
- Trivial, chatty talk or writing.
Gossip is talking about another person when they are not present. Period. It doesn’t matter if the conversation is seemingly harmless, or information is meant to just illustrate a story.
As young girls, we are taught to trade gossip. It’s social currency, how we exchange information, and for many of us it’s the water we swim in. We don’t even see it as a problem! Gossip is especially damaging when it gets back to the person being discussed who is left with hurt feelings wondering why people choose to talk about them behind their backs.
Gossip culture damages our relationships. And, while we learn from personal stories, gossip is actually debasing and a cheap way to develop intimacy with a friend. When we gossip, we talk about others instead of ideas, inspirations, our human experience.
Gossip interferes with our time for productive and generative conversations that could create the world that most of us long to live in. Think about all the time that is lost to gossip when we could have used that time to get to know a person better, hear a story from their life, learn something new, and/or support a friend in her goals. Gossip is beneath us, it hurts us in our heart and in our gut.
Try venting instead of gossiping.
Sometimes we need to vent. We need to let out our frustrations and to be honest, people can be infuriating. Here are some ways to vent that keep from you from crossing over into gossip:
- Vent in a journal, in a voicemail to yourself or an audio note that you then delete.
- Talk to a therapist and request specific feedback on how to deal with this person and situation.
Allow venting to become a restorative practice for your communications skills and ability to discern what is important to you. Your anger and frustration with a person includes a lesson for you. Look for it instead of only talking about someone behind their back.
I invite you to take a gossip fast.
If you want to stop gossiping but can’t, this is for you and here’s how you do it:
- Make a commitment to not gossip for a set period of time. 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, etc. Tell the people you are in regular communication with that you are on a gossip fast and ask for their support and accountability (Bonus: notice how they react).
- When an urge to gossip arises and when it does, remind yourself you are on a gossip fast.
- Notice how it feels to want to gossip and how it feels to choose not to. Journal about what comes up for YOU in this process. How does it feel to let gossip go?
I started with gossip fasts here and there. It was challenging. But now I haven’t done it in decades and my friendships have deepened. I have found that creating a container for an authentic conversation is one of life’s joys. Plus, I sleep better because I don’t replay conversations in my head or worry that I hurt someone’s feelings.
So, what do you talk about when you don’t gossip? I have some tips to get you started.
How to start gossip free conversations:
- Talk about anything but a person.
- Ask about the other person. Get curious about their lives and what they are up to. Here are some examples to try:
- What’s been exciting you lately?
- What are you most passionate about right now?
- What are you creating?
- Share something about yourself and your interests. Talk about a book, an inspiring idea, something that has opened your eyes/mind recently.
In truth, we are a community. When you bring the practice of collaboration, reciprocity, and generative conversation into conscious view a special kind of alchemy occurs. To make this magic happen, you need to shift from the “you-OR-me” worldview of scarcity and competition to shift into the “you-AND-me” world of collaboration.
A gossip-free practice is a great way to begin to see the magic that is all around us.